China has announced that it is set to host the inaugural China-Africa defense and security forum, which is scheduled for June 26 through July 10.
Happening amidst significant Sino-African political and economic relations, the forum is thought to strengthen diplomatic links, investments in infrastructure, and training the next generation of Africa.
China also wants to promote a positive global image for itself, as does Africa. As fellow developing nations, there are mutually beneficial aspects to their relationship. For instance, China provides unconditional aid or cash transfers to African nations, whereas western nations such as the United States often only provides conditional aid.
This, however, is an extremely controversial topic. There’s a belief that China’s aid to Africa is more harmful than it is good because it reflects the type of economic colonialism that adversely affected the continent previously.
Africa’s economic problem is not solely defined by a lack of money, but uneven distribution of money and corruption within government. Those problems could possibly worsen with unconditional grants.
As aforementioned, China is not the sole beneficiary in the relationship. They also receive Africa’s resources as an incentive; whether or not this is a fair trade is up for debate.
As for the forum, it could also be seen as China’s attempt to protect its international interests. This includes the One Belt One Road (or OBOR) initiative; OBOR is a massive project initiated to build infrastructure. The project is expected to advance transport, energy, roads, bridges, gas pipelines, ports, railways and power plants.
According to a 2013 estimate, it will cost the east Asian nation around $5 trillion dollars.
Supporting African nations regarding logistical and defense is part of China’s plan of “projecting itself as the leader of the developing world and a nation that finds itself in solidarity with developing nations,” according to Theodor Neethling, who heads the department of political studies at the University of Free State in South Africa.
How is the Rest of the World Reacting?
Dambisa Moyo, Zambian-born economist, believes that there is a flaw in the international aid system. However, she hopes that the Western style of aid (specifically to Africa) will eventually dissolve, and that the Chinese model of aid will replace that. The Chinese model encourages trade and direct investment.
Western nations criticize China’s aid and business practices in Africa, citing Beijing fails to promote democracy and human rights in countries such as Sudan, Guinea and Zimbabwe that have notoriously oppressive societies. However, African nations typically prefer the Chinese model, as Moyo does.
“Many African governments like to work with the Chinese because it’s traditionally been a strictly business-to-business relationship,” says Richard Downie, acting director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Africa Program, “There’s been less conditionality in types of support that the Chinese – especially the state-backed companies – [have] offered to governments.”
While China’s economy has improved significantly with its wave of African investments, The United States neglect of Africa is lessening its presence on the international stage.
According to US news, President Trump’s lackadaisical attitude on international aid and his aggressive “America First” mantra is actually making America lose in the battle for global influence.
“It doesn’t matter what part of government you look at, it just makes sense to be engaged,” Downie says, adding that he is not sure the Trump administration will push those values on foreign partners. “And with a continent of 54 countries, if the U.S. wants to advance its interest in the world – that’s a lot of folks in the U.N., for example – working those diplomatic relationships is important. And that means being physically there, being engaged, trying to assert those values.”
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